Fresh spring produce outshines frozen favorites

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It’s that time of the year when you step outside to the unmistakable earthy smell of the rain, signaling that spring is finally in the air. With a change of season brings new harvests and an opportunity to refresh your cooking routine. Explore tips to make the most out of your spring produce, including recipe ideas and preservation techniques to savor their flavors.

Experiment with new flavors and new vegetables with this spring’s freshest produce. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Celebrate the season’s bounty

Spring’s April showers help bring a blooming variety of seasonal produce. From asparagus to green beans, artichokes and the beloved strawberry, there are plenty of ingredients you can use for your recipes. By shopping seasonally, you not only enjoy the nutritional benefits of fresh ingredients but also reduce your carbon footprint.

Seasonal food tends to have lower greenhouse gas emissions. This study by Cambridge University has shown that tomatoes that are not in season and grown locally in greenhouses have a higher carbon footprint than if grown in season in another country and imported. Eating seasonal foods reduces emissions from production and cuts down on the need for storage, such as refrigeration.

Consuming recently harvested produce also has nutritional benefits. Fruits and vegetables that ripen naturally and are eaten right after harvesting have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than those sourced from far locations and left on grocery shelves for an extended period.

Spring produce shopping guide

The farmer’s market is often a gold mine for finding the freshest produce. The rule of thumb when shopping for vegetables is to look for bright colors that are firm and have no discoloration. When selecting leafy greens like spinach, make sure there is no wilting or yellowing. For peas and beans, watch out for signs of limpness. With berries, flip the box upside down to check for dark spots or mold.

Preparation and storage are key to maintaining the maximum freshness of your goods. To store strawberries, first, soak them in vinegar mixed with water. Then, give the berries a thorough rinse and dry them. Once dry, store them in the fridge in a container if you’re planning to eat them within the next five days. Otherwise, it might be best to freeze them so they don’t go bad. 

The same process can be used for most vegetables, although you can omit the vinegar solution. With leafy greens, wrap them in a paper towel before refrigerating them in a sealed bag or container. A pro tip is to separate the vegetables from the fruits in the fridge to prevent overripening.

Cooking techniques to showcase spring produce

Now that you’ve done the shopping and storage prep, it’s time to get cooking. To retain more nutrients, steam-blanch vegetables like asparagus and green beans instead of boiling them. Try this technique by boiling 2 inches of water in a pot and placing a basket above the water to hold the ingredients. Cover the pot and steam for as long as the recipe says — each type of vegetable has a different steam time to cook fully. Once done, immerse the vegetables in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

For a more flavorful meal, grill your artichokes to get that smoky taste. Roasted radishes and spring onions also make for delicious side dishes — nothing fancy is required, just a few drizzles of olive oil and sprinkles of your favorite seasonings. If you want to enjoy the ingredients raw for a cleaner taste instead, prepare salads with tender greens and radishes. You can’t go wrong with fresh chopped-up veggies combined with your choice of dressing. 

Spring ingredients for every meal

It’s easy to incorporate spring produce into your daily meals with the wide variety of harvests this season brings. For breakfast, whip up a strawberry and mint smoothie or a yogurt bowl topped with berries. For lunch, prepare a refreshing salad featuring spinach, peas and radishes. If you’re craving a sweet treat mid-day, snack on some rhubarb bread. End off the day by cooking grilled asparagus or artichokes for your family to savor the flavors of spring at dinner.  You can’t forget dessert — strawberry-rhubarb pie will be a crowd favorite that showcases the season’s berries beneath a beautifully arranged lattice. 

Preserving spring flavors

The downside of seasonal eating is not being able to access your favorite produce when the weather changes. However, you can always preserve the flavors of spring by freezing your berries or pickling green beans and radishes in a brine of vinegar, water, salt and sugar. Experiment with other aromatics in the pickling solution for a flavor kick, like lemongrass or black peppercorns.  

Jams are the best way to enjoy the sweet taste of spring well into other seasons. The process is pretty much the same whether making a strawberry or rhubarb jam. Mash the ingredients and mix them with white sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio over low heat in a pan. Add a quarter cup of lemon juice and bring the mixture to a boil until it starts to gel. Once it’s done, fill the jam in your containers, pop them into the freezer, and now you have a spread that will last all year round.

Refresh your drink menu

It’s time to sip on cool and refreshing spring-inspired beverages all day long, from morning smoothies to evening cocktails. Change up your regular glass of water with strawberry-infused water. Strawberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, making this a great detox drink, especially when combined with lemon juice. If you want more of a sugary kick, try your hand at homemade lemonade. Or, relax in the evening with a classic mint julep. 

New season, new ingredients

Seasonal eating allows you to try new ingredients every few months and refresh your cooking routine. While springtime is often associated with cleaning and rainy weeks, it also brings rich harvests with artichokes, radishes, strawberries and more. Embrace the season of change by experimenting with new recipes and flavors in your kitchen. Visit your local farmer’s market or sign up for a local farm-share or co-op to get the freshest spring produce for your newest culinary creations.

Jennifer Allen is a retired professional chef and long-time writer. Her writing appears in dozens of publications, and she has two cookbooks, Keto Soup Cookbook and Keto Diabetic Cookbook and Meal Plan. These days, she’s busy in the kitchen, developing recipes for various publications and traveling. You can find all her best recipes at Cook What You Love.

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